“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”
― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
Can you feel cold in a dream?
Is it something you truly perceive? Is it a belief? A chemical storm that creates an alchemic reality?
Catherine would have asked this of herself had she the time to reflect, to reason out the nightmare, but she didn’t. Time flowed; nothing stood still.
Had she the time to think, she would have said she accepted the dream cold, trusted it, as she trusted the bond. The nightmare that surrounded her was frost and ice reality. She believed in the bloody mess on the floor, slouching towards them, the monster that held a steak knife in its mangled mouth. She was certain of his coming. He would cut out her heart, the one that connected her to Vincent, the one that kept them paralyzed next to one another, unable to fight or run, unable to find their son. The monster would climb their bed to cleave the golden band, the iron cable, the white thread that bound them. He would kill Vincent, but not her, not because of any mercy—he had none. He would kill her one heart, but she carried another secret one–a frozen heart, the creator of the storm that raged all around them. It would keep her alive, even if she lost everything.
There was nothing she could do.
The pounding that woke her from the nightmare was, in her raw and instinctive state, the F.B.I. coming to lock Vincent away.
Before Catherine could shake the sleep insensibility, Vincent was moving.
Like something practiced and perfected in thought, Vincent pulled on his shirt, then lifted the baby from the bassinet and placed the basket into the closet. He motioned for her to dress. Catherine could only follow his lead, pulling on her skirt, doing up her blouse, and slipping on her boots. While she did so, Vincent grabbed their clothing bag and, with one sweeping gesture, pulled the cover and sheet over the bed.
More pounding from downstairs.
Catherine stole a glance back as Vincent ushered them towards the back stairs. If no one looked too closely, they would only see an unused bedroom.
The baby was stunned enough by the sudden flight to not protest, thank goodness. They made their way down to the kitchen. From there they would escape whoever was knocking, by sneaking underground and back to the Tunnels.
Vincent had led them halfway down the basement steps before they heard Peter open the front door, and a female voice speaking.
At least it wasn’t the agents.
Vincent, inexplicably, stopped to listen. The voices were too far away for Catherine, jumbled and indistinct.
“A woman… Jenny Aronson,” he said, softly stating what he could hear that she could not. “She’s asking for Joe Maxwell…” His eyes found hers. “And for you.”
“Jenny?” Catherine couldn’t help but exclaim in a whisper.
Jenny, her friend from a past of safety, or at least, the illusion of safety.
Catherine looked down at Vincent cradling the child a few steps ahead of her. He was considering, calculating.
She didn’t urge them back to the Tunnels and, perhaps because she hadn’t, his attention focused in on her, gauging, assessing her in a way that made her slightly uncomfortable, as if there were secrets about her only he knew.
He passed her Jacob.
“Stay here,” he instructed. “Speak to your friend. I will apprise Father and the others of what has happened.”
I hope not everything that’s happened, she thought, trying to stifle a blush. A quiet beat between them. He guessed her thought, she surmised, but didn’t remark on it as he handed her the clothing bag. “I’ll return before you leave this afternoon.”
Vincent wants me to see Jenny?
She wasn’t prepared for him to offer this connection to her past. She wasn’t prepared for him to leave her.
He turned and began to walk away as she stood paralyzed on the step.
“No, Vincent, wait.”
It isn’t safe. Can Jenny be safe? “Maybe we should go with you.”
“Catherine…” he said, returning to her, “you and Jacob can come with me, of course, but don’t you wish to see your friend?”
Not if she can put us in danger.
“There isn’t much time,” he whispered, placing a hand on her elbow. “Peter is trying to turn her away.”
Stop! No! I need time to think.
If she goes, I may never see her again. And as panicked as that should have made her, another voice in her mind, which, if she had to identify it, sounded a lot like Father’s, answered, That may be for the best.
“Catherine, she’s found you. Shouldn’t you learn how?”
Yes. He was logical, infuriatingly logical.
“And…” he looked downward, then returned to her eyes, “a part of you wants to stay.”
She kept his gaze through simultaneous thoughts.
He’s trying so hard to give me something; he doesn’t know about my dream.
Last night—what they had done last night—had nearly obliterated thoughts of nightmares. Watching him sleep peacefully, she forgot the dreams, and the thrashing, and the bruises, and fights that could go along with them. The icy nightmare was payment for her forgetfulness but, thank God, he had not shared it, even if another corner of her heart wished he understood why she hesitated.
There were so many fragments of her, but he was right; a naïve and hopeful part wanted to see Jenny.
He glanced over her shoulder and then returned to her gaze again. “Go upstairs,” he said, with mirth that wasn’t lost in his straight stare, “so you can show off my son to your friend.”
She nearly laughed, teetering on the border of hysterical, glad, and terrified.
He was trying to give her her life, her other life, back. He seemed to believe that he needed to give to her, always, as if what he provided wasn’t enough.
In almost every other relationship, at least the romantic ones, familiarity had led to diminishing respect. The weaknesses of her lovers—overarching ambition, pettiness, jealousy of her other friendships—forgiven during the first flush of love, ended by stacking and stacking into walls between them. Vincent didn’t have a petty bone in his body, and their relationship had lasted longer than any of the others—there was a triumph in that. His ambitions were for home, family, and mutual happiness. She could only respect him, yet there were other types of walls, and he had weaknesses too.
Frozen, bound, ready for slaughter.
Noises from upstairs interrupted. Although she couldn’t catch the words, she could discern Jenny now arguing with Peter, and that was terrible. Even Catherine didn’t like arguing with Jen.
Indefatigable Jenny saw through Catherine’s unapproachable shield on their first day as college roommates. She looked past the remote, vain, and stuck-up freshman Catherine was, daring to tell a motherless girl to lighten up. Jenny—first to comment on the changing color of Catherine’s eyes, first to help her find her sense of humor, first to stand up to her, and with her.
Catherine sighed and smiled at her husband, torn between fear and love, and not a small wish to save their gracious host from her friend.
“Vincent, am I just being paranoid?”
He smiled and shook his head against the thought.
“No. Careful, safe—I would expect nothing less from my wife.”
He reached around her and held both her and the baby in his large embrace. She marveled that she didn’t have to bend to kiss him even though he was two steps beneath her.
He started to move in the opposite direction. She did, too, but turned before she reached the landing.
“2 o’clock?” she asked him before he disappeared in the shadows of the basement.
He nodded. “Until then.”
She put the dream away in the chest of her feelings, shutting it up, and walked into the light of the morning kitchen.
Peter and Jenny were still sparring at the front door. Jenny stood her ground, her large purse and stance making her appear bigger than she was. Catherine had seen her use the intimidation tactic in countless confrontations.
“I’m sorry,” Peter said, standing sentinel, “but Mr. Maxwell isn’t here, and…”
“Jenny,” Catherine called, announcing her presence.
The woman and Peter, surprised out of their exchange, just stood there, dumbstruck.
‘Hi, Jenny.” The words felt silly, tentative, but Catherine’s greeting released her friend, and Jenny rushed around the doctor in the doorway. Mid-step, however, she saw Jacob, and threw a hand over her mouth.
“Well,” Peter said while closing the door, then tightening his robe. “I’m going to make some coffee. You want some?” he asked Catherine as he walked past her into the kitchen.
“Yes, please,” she called after him, and then pivoted back to her still speechless friend.
Jenny dropped her hand.
“Cathy?” Jenny asked, finishing her dash over and pulling Catherine into a tight hug.
Her friend pulled away. “Oh, my God, is this … is this baby yours?” Her eyes focused on the bundle on Catherine’s shoulder.
In response, Catherine nodded and turned Jacob in her arms, cradling him outwardly so Jenny could see.
“You didn’t tell me you were having a baby!” she shouted, her expression at first hurt, then instantly streaming to dismay. Her hand covered her mouth again, and she said through her fingers, “Oh, my God, you were going to tell me you were having a baby.”
Yes, the day I called you. The day I brought my ideas about the book to Moreno. The day I locked the door on my cell and threw away the key.
Catherine could only answer with the truth, trying to smile. “I was going to tell a lot of people.”
Jenny examined Jacob head to toe, her astonishment not dissipating.
“Jenny,” Catherine said, trying to catch her friend’s eyes, “how did you find me?”
Vincent was right; they needed to know.
“I dreamt about you. I dreamt I found you today.”
Of course, you did, Catherine thought. Can we please see the end to prophetic dreams? At least, the need for them…
“And it was easy.”
No, Jenny… Please don’t let it be easy…
“I hunt down authors and their misspent advances for a living, you know.” Her hand did a curt up and down wave as if to say it was simple. “I just called up Joe’s office. Marlene is so tired of me calling, she gave me the numbers to get him messages so I’d bother him myself. One was the phone number here. I took a gamble, but when I saw the place, I recognized it from my dream.”
“I knew Joe knew where you were.”
Dammit, Marlene. Dammit, Joe, you have to be more careful.
Her mind immediately starting working on multiple scenarios for the future, but Jenny inturrupted.
“You look awful, Cathy.”
“Thanks?” Catherine answered with requisite sarcasm, but Jenny wasn’t having the levity.
“Why are you hiding out here? What happened?” Jenny’s hand cupped Catherine’s cheek. “What did they do to you?”
Catherine pulled back, a sharp anger flooding her.
How can you understand? How can you know what it’s like to give up on everything, even sanity? Don’t try, Jenny. Vincent doesn’t even know…
When Catherine retreated from Jenny’s care, Jenny withdrew too. Her hands went to her purse, the strap and leather bulk crossing her, as if she could still get robbed, still get hurt as easily here as on the subway.
They stood, an ocean of secrecy and horrible experiences keeping them apart.
But at least she’s here, Catherine’s second thoughts argued.
She could have been followed, more thoughts chimed in.
There’s nothing to be done now. If they come, you run, another voice reminded her.
Vincent was lingering. He was still near, right under their feet, ready for the possibility.
The chasm widened, and Catherine could think of only one thing that might bridge the divide. She held the baby slightly away from herself as an explanation.
Jenny dropped the bag from her arm and walked forward.
The baby, still somewhat rattled from the unexpected escape from the bedroom, watched the newcomer with an intensity that reminded Catherine of his father.
“He’s gorgeous,” Jenny breathed, caught by the boy’s blue eyes for a moment, but then glanced back up at her friend, an unexpected look of concern crossing her features. “But, you, Cathy, really look terrible. You don’t look…” she shook her head, her curls bouncing all over, “—like you.”
Catherine wondered what that meant—drained, maybe, exhausted, maybe.
Or are you just a different person now?
“Sorry,” Catherine said, with less good humor.
“Oh, don’t be like that. You know what I mean.” Jenny picked a lock of hair near her neck, showing Catherine. “See! Your split ends have split ends!”
Catherine couldn’t help but laugh at the pointed fussing.
“Well, it’s been a while since my last haircut. It’s kind of taken a distant backseat to feeding him every two hours.” It was at least a partial truth.
Jenny’s attention drifted back to the baby. She placed a finger in his hand, experimenting with his strong, instinctive grip.
“I just can’t believe you have a baby.”
“Neither can I.” Catherine looked at her son, who was glancing between Jen and her, wondering what would happen next.
“Jen, I have to get ready. I have to talk to some people about what happened.”
Catherine didn’t say who, she didn’t say where, she didn’t say why, and in this experiment with her old life, that was how it had to be.
“OK,” Jenny switched into her planning mode without asking anything more. “You need a shower, and some other clothes.” Unacceptable, unsuitable, her expression said of the rumpled blouse and skirt. “Do you have any other clothes?”
“Yes, she does!” came Peter’s voice from the kitchen. “Next to the stairs.”
Catherine and Jenny turned to the unnoticed bags.
“Good,” Jenny replied in kind, then scrutinized Catherine’s face, focusing under her eyes. “Do you have any make-up?”
Catherine shook her head.
“OK, well, can you go out? You need a trim anyway. I bet I could get you in with Steve, at Le Reve.”
Catherine pulled the baby closer and silently signaled “no” again.
“OK… well, don’t worry, I can do something with your hair. I can do that.” Jenny’s attention pivoted as if imagining the undertaking, and she repeated, “I can do that,” mentally tallying her list of what was needed. When she seemed satisfied with her calculations, she looked back to them.
“Can I hold him?”
Catherine nodded, hoping for this sharing, for the distraction.
“Jacob, huh?” Jenny asked, taking the baby from Catherine’s arms with the slightly awkward hands of someone not used to children.
“Jacob,” Catherine confirmed.
Jenny gazed at the baby again.
“And the father?”
He was gone now, but he’d be back, and what then?
She could introduce them, they could try, but he’d already paid the introduction’s price so many times—the shock, the fear, the anger—all directed at him. He would pay it again if she asked him to, but if Jenny had the same reaction as Joe… What if she didn’t understand? What kind of jeopardy could that put them into?
Vincent was the answer to the question that Catherine couldn’t give, not yet, maybe not ever. The further they fell into this strange, unbalanced world of Gabriel Sol’s making, a world of hard-fought-for secrets and crucial lies, the further all answers seemed to slip away.
Catherine shook her head again against Jenny’s inquiry, hoping it was the last time, the last request. She could feel her nerves straining thin and taut.
Jenny seemed ready to cry.
“Jenny, I don’t even know where to begin.” It was meant to stave off her friend’s frustration, but it was also reality and, with that response, Jenny unexpectedly smiled.
This was Jenny’s mercurial charm at its best—one end of the spectrum to the other. The fact that she was emotionally flighty, that she could simultaneously worry and make light of almost every situation, could almost be admired, almost overlooked.
“It’s alright, Cathy,” Jenny assured her. “You tell me when you’re ready.”
Jenny shook off tears and started bouncing Jacob around the vestibule.
“Jacob, we are going to have fun getting to know each other.” She peeked over to Catherine. “Your mommy is my best friend, you know. She doesn’t know where to start, but we’ll help her, won’t we?”
The baby, excited by the attention, kicked and huffed as Jenny loudly whispered with pretend conspiracy. “She needs us, and I think it’s time we reminded her of Bubbie Aronson advice.”
Jenny smiled wider.
“‘When in doubt, put on your face.’”
After a shower, coffee, food, and Jenny’s help using a pair of Peter’s spare surgical scissors, Catherine, and her hair, looked almost decent.
Catherine wiped fog off the mirror of the guest bathroom then pulled on a new-to-her blouse over a new-to-her bra.
Jenny made another circuit of the guest bedroom, walking the baby around, trying to keep him busy while his mother finished getting ready.
“These things are dangerous, Cathy,” she called, staring into Jacob’s eyes as she rocked him.
Catherine watched as Jenny rubbed her cheek against his. He reached out to grab the curls that wafted into range, but wasn’t quick enough. Before he got a grip on her, Jenny was up and gazing into his eyes again.
“Jacob, between you and Nancy’s little Beth, you are making the mommy club look very appealing.”
“Babies tend to do that, don’t they?” Catherine agreed, turning to the mirror, hurrying to brush out the last of the damp from the newly trimmed locks.
Babies wanted to be born, and nature found a way. Catherine’s own ticking biological clock crisis wasn’t that far back not to remember. After that weekend with Beth, and then with Lena’s baby, she’d felt the urgent call of the future and family. Had Vincent known, or had he been blindsided by the test she initiated without realizing it?
“What’s it like to hold a baby in your arms?”
Was it too late before the words had left her mouth? Had she started them on the path that at once felt so right, but also like some Schopenhauer-esque trap? The “Will to Life” working through them? Vincent might not say so. He might deny it, but she had set the train in motion, even if he had jumped on with her. His philosophical, exceptional thoughts replaced with carnal and everyday ones—the sage brought down from his mountain. In the years to come, would he thank her, or blame her?
Jenny switched the baby to a downward hold. Jacob took the opportunity to start to gum her arm, and Catherine brightened at his hungry sign.
No, Vincent loved her, and loved his child. This wasn’t the only path, but it was their path now. They would have to figure this out. Between the two of them there had to be enough will and other philosophers to help them find their way.
“Well, I’m not quite ready for kids yet,” Jenny continued, as if taking the other side of Catherine’s inner argument. “I’ve got a lot going on in my career.”
At least one of us does. Catherine smiled ruefully into the mirror at her own image.
“And,” Jenny said, lengthening the word in emphasis, while still pacing with the baby, “since the last guy I dated who seemed like daddy material didn’t tell me he already was daddy material…”
Catherine laughed at her friend’s valiant humor.
This is what she needed. How did Vincent always know? she wondered again. Jenny was what was called for, a friend, not his friend, or, more importantly, not his first—one whose loyalty and love began with her.
Jenny’s cosmetics lay on the counter, not Catherine’s colors, but they would serve. Catherine skipped the foundation and used the powder sparingly so it wasn’t too obvious it wasn’t her tone. The blush was better, giving her a little more life, and the eyeliner and eye shadow also worked in her favor.
“Jenny, what time is it?”
Vincent would be back soon. If she just waited, he could introduce himself. Jenny would then understand the need for secrecy. Jenny, smarter and kinder than New York and the publishing world deserved, would see, at least in part, why she was holed up at Peter’s, without Catherine having to say another word.
Could Jenny handle the truth? Can she keep the secrets? Catherine asked herself, while she appraised her image in the mirror again.
Eric’s sister, Ellie, and Carol Stabler mutely flanked each side of her reflection. They stood near, their presence ruthless, their silence an unspoken admonition.
No. Keep quiet, because Above or Below, no place is truly safe…
“Cathy,” Jenny interrupted. “Can you feed this cute little beast? He’s been trying to eat my arm off for the last ten minutes!”
Catherine blinked the ghosts away, turning off the light as she left the bathroom.
Jenny was trying to delay Jacob’s imminent crying with grand rocking gestures, finally whisking the baby up to face her. “Sorry, kid, but I just don’t have the goods!”
Catherine padded into the bedroom, clad in pantyhose and the blouse they had picked and pressed with the help of Josephine’s iron. Jenny handed off the baby and Catherine sat in the chair to nurse him.
Jenny consciously looked away, surveying the bed full of outfits she had picked out of the two Macy’s bags of clothes—some never worn, some almost never—testaments to the goodness of others. Peter had told her over breakfast the tale of the clothing that had arrived yesterday from his office via a medical courier, as well as stockings, toiletries, breast pump, diapers, and formula. His nurses had answered the call for a new mother in need admirably.
And still it was a risk.
“Here,” Jenny said, picking a Tiffany blue suit that was only a few summers out of fashion. “This should fit. What do you think?”
“It will be fine.” And it was—better than yesterday’s clothes, at least.
Around 1:45, Catherine, clad in her new suit and old shoes, walked with Jenny hand in hand out of the bedroom in which Jacob was now sleeping.
Catherine looked ahead. “Are you going to tell me about your dream, Jenny?”
“How did you know?”
Because we all dream something.
“Because you said you dreamt about this house, that you dreamt about finding me today.”
Catherine led Jenny with a guiding hand down the front stairs.
“Oh, yeah… right…Well, I dreamed you were here, and there was this… animal,” her gestures reached up and out, indicating someone, or something, massive, “or thing protecting you. It wasn’t clear… like a big cat… or a lion.”
“Really?” Catherine asked from behind Jenny, trying to sound casual.
“Yeah, it sat at your feet, guarding you. And you know how there’s a difference between when an animal is looking around, and when it… hones in, when it hunts, right? That was really clear. It wanted to attack something, but you didn’t want it to leave your side. You wouldn’t. You were afraid for it.”
Catherine deliberately kept from wincing at Jenny’s description of it, feeling contrite over a dream depiction of Vincent that wasn’t even hers.
“Anything else? Anything about the baby?”
“No,” Jenny answered, looking guilty.
Catherine patted her friend’s hand in comfort. “Jenny, I love you,” Catherine said, forgiving Jacob’s absence in Jenny’s prophecy, even if it added to her growing anxiety. Jacob hadn’t been in her own dream, either.
“I love you, too, Cathy,” Jenny returned, but shook her head, as if to ward off what she had to know was coming next.
They reached the front door before Catherine spoke again.
“Thank you for your help, for everything, especially for believing I wasn’t dead,” Catherine said, as she took both of Jenny’s hands in hers, and seized her friend’s gaze with her own. “Now I need you to go and not come back here. I’ll contact you again when I can, but it may be a long time from now.”
“Cathy, no way—” Jenny rushed to say.
“Jenny, please.” Catherine gripped Jenny’s hands tighter. “When I told you I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t lying.”
I have a lion, but you’re right, I’m afraid for him.
“I have friends helping me, but there are other people out there who will use everyone I care about against me.”
“Cathy, just tell me. You know they can’t—“
“Please, Jenny!” Catherine yelled over her, but then deliberately modulated. “Can you understand I need to keep you safe?”
“Cathy—“ Jenny started to protest again, tears bringing her voice to a low whisper.
“Jenny, stop!” If Jenny started to truly cry, Catherine couldn’t match her tears—before, maybe, but not anymore. She felt herself hurtle towards the familiar place where sadness gave way to survival. If Jenny didn’t let her go, if she didn’t stop… Catherine would have to bring up what had been between them too long.
You told Steven where I was. You knew what he did to me. Worse, you knew how he could manipulate me, but you told him anyway.
There are things you can’t say and still be friends.
“Jenny, I almost died because I trusted people,” Catherine said instead, and adding quickly, “I need to keep you safe,”, so Jenny understood she wasn’t accusing her.
Catherine looked to the second floor. “I need to keep my baby safe.”
My husband is downstairs right now. I can feel him. Your dream is right. I need him safe.
“Alright,” was all Jenny could answer.
Catherine felt nothing, just the strange remote floating that came after too much emotion, but she hugged and held Jenny for a long time anyway. When she let go to open the door, Joe was already walking up the stairs.
“Jenny! What are you doing here?” Joe started.
“Goodbye, Jenny,” Catherine said, her commanding and icy monotone surprising even her. It brooked no argument.
Jenny threw on her sunglasses and walked away without acknowledging Joe.
She knew what was coming.
When Jenny was down the front steps, Catherine turned on the D. A. of New York.
“Joe, how could you?” Catherine seethed as she dragged him inside by his cuff and slammed the door.
Joe was pulled off balance, righting himself as he questioned, “What you talking about, Radcliffe?”
“You all but led Jenny here!” she shouted, and Vincent was behind her. She could feel him, and his confusion.
“Excuse me?” Joe said, truly at a loss, and somehow that made it worse.
Rage burned through detachment, settling into the skin of her face and into her fingers that twisted into fists on the verge of lashing out. Joe had ruined it for Jenny, and for all her friends. They couldn’t know Vincent, because of his reaction. The possibility that Vincent might interpret her hesitation to introduce him as shame about him, rather than about her friends’ possible response to him, only fueled more resentment.
There are things you can’t say and still be friends.
Joe pulled away and addressed Vincent over her shoulder. “Uh-oh, Vincent, Aretha’s back.”
“This isn’t a game, Joe! You gave Marlene the number here? I can’t believe you were so careless! Who else did you tell?”
He dropped his briefcase, ready for a fight. The man attacked with honed precision when confronted, making him a dangerous opponent in court.
“Nobody, Cathy! I told nobody! You are blowing this way out of proportion!”
The “you’re overreacting” tack—typically male.
“Joe, this is Vincent’s, and Jacob’s, and my life! That’s, ‘out of proportion’?”
Vincent stepped around and embraced her by the shoulders, both holding her up, but also away from Joe.
“No one is looking for you, Cathy, no one but Jenny, and Burch, and those F.B.I. agents!”
“You don’t know that!” He couldn’t, could he? A half-second of doubt, then she retreated into the anger again, doubly infuriated for distrusting herself.
“Listen, Radcliffe, I’m tired of getting messages in deli meat! I’m tired of this clandestine crap!” he yelled. “You’re worried… I get it, but once we deal with these agents and Moreno, it’s over.”
Vincent held her to him as she tried to breathe. When she looked to him, he let his eyes speak calm, to aid her as she tried to compose herself enough to not see Joe as the enemy.
You think this is over, Joe? I hope you’re right, but…
Blood and ice, snow swirling, monsters approaching.
Dreams that wouldn’t stay away, that wouldn’t let go…
No place is safe…
“No. I don’t think this is over.”